05/25/17 — Schools submit $8M wish list

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Schools submit $8M wish list

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 25, 2017 7:09 AM

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Wayne County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Dunsmore, right, answers questions from Wayne County commissioners during a Tuesday morning budget workshop.

A nearly $8 million wish list for Wayne County Public Schools is not included in the slightly more than $20 million appropriation for the schools in the county's 2017-18 draft budget.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Dunsmore Tuesday morning told Wayne County commissioners he was not asking for the money, but rather providing information they had requested.

The big ticket item was $5 million to purchase textbooks for every student in the school system followed by $650,000 for a 1 percent increase in teacher supplements; $1,442,679 for the student device initiative; $575,000 for extra-duty supplement; and $135,000 for paving costs.

Dunsmore said his top priorities would be paving costs and supplements.

There is a five-year cycle on the textbooks, County Manager George Wood said. There is a "tremendous" upfront cost of $5 million then a million a year to update the books, but then it starts over in the sixth year, Wood said.

"That's $9 million every five years if you went strictly textbooks," Wood said.

The switch to technology and broadband, while expensive is still a cheaper option than textbooks that become obsolete "real quick," Wood said.

The list is the outgrowth of March joint meeting between commissioners and the school board.

"I feel like someone who opened up Pandora's box here," said Commissioner Joe Daughtery who asked about textbook costs during the March meeting. "The state is, I thought, supposed to provide the funding for textbooks."

Daughtery asked if there was a way the county could a grant or something similar to what Lenoir County had used to purchase devices and e-books for its students.

"I just don't see how the county can possibly provide that kind of funding," he said.

Daughtery said he had made his comments at the joint session in an attempt to simply try to open up the possibility of other options, such as technology, rather than spending more on textbooks.

The school system is in year two of a five-year roll out of a technology initiative made possible by additional funding this past year from the county, Dunsmore said.

There is money available, including through the Golden LEAF Foundation, for technology, Dunsmore said.

The school applied last year, but was turned down because the system's infrastructure was incapable of handling all of the extra devices such smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices, he said.

Dunsmore said the school system would reapply for the Golden LEAF grant.

"I agree with you that the state should be providing textbooks," he said. "Public education is in a real flux right now -- whether we do textbooks or do we go all technology or whether it is a blending of how we look at all of that."

More than likely it will be a combination of textbooks and student devices, he said.

As for the student device initiative, the school system is not ready for it, Dunsmore said. The system is working on its technology plan and how it will get those devices into the hands of students, he said.

That could possibly include students bringing in their own devices to use, he said.

"We are not ready, even if we put a one-to-one computer into every student's hands," Dunsmore said. "Our buildings are not up to the capability at this time. We are close. I believe our high schools are all ready.

"The middle schools, they are working on and we are just starting out in the elementary schools to get them where they need to be."

Daughtery asked Dunsmore if there was anything commissioners could do to speed up the process to ensure the technology is in place in order for the school system to apply for the grants.

"You have already done that in funding the technology plan that is spread out over five years," Dunsmore said. "We are already letting students bring their own device to the high schools and accessing that wireless."

Daughtery said he is an impatient person and that five years equals five graduations of students.

He wanted to know what commissioners could do to shorten that time.

The county will not be able to afford a one-to-one or even a one-to-three ratio of buying devices for students, but starting next year students will be able to bring their own devices, said Dr. David Lewis, assistant superintendent for accountability and information and technology services.

Also, the system will be able to begin using some funds that had been set aside to purchase devices for students at the middle and high school levels next year, he said.

Year two the upgrades will be done at the remaining elementary schools, he said.

"So by year two infrastructure will no longer be an issue," Lewis said. "We will be on track to start spending money on student devices."